State awards South Portland’s Kaler Elementary $1.6 million for school improvement

The funding from the Maine Department of Education will help transform the struggling school and increase student achievement, teacher effectiveness and community engagement

SOUTH PORTLAND – A South Portland elementary school will use $1.6 million awarded today by the Maine Department of Education to raise student proficiency in math and reading by 10 percent annually over the next three years.

The James Otis Kaler Elementary School, which serves 231 pre-K through grade 5 students, joins 11 others across the state that have received funding for intensive improvement work from the Department since 2010 through the federal School Improvement Grant program (SIG).

“Improving schools improves opportunities for our kids to reach their full potential,” said Governor Paul R. LePage. “Instead of making excuses, Kaler Elementary School leaders are raising the expectations of themselves and their students. I congratulate them for putting their students first and giving the classroom teachers the resources they need to raise aspirations and achievement.”

Kaler was one of 13 schools eligible to apply for the State support because it has continued to be among Maine’s most struggling. Despite a school-based renewal effort launched there in 2011, school officials say Kaler has not made meaningful headway overcoming its challenges, including high teacher turnover and a growing percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged or require special education or English language learning services.

The school has received an “F” on its State report card the last two years, and just 38.5 percent of its students are proficient in math and 44.4 percent in reading, significantly below the State average.

Maine Education Commissioner Jim Rier said many Maine schools can make improvements by focusing existing resources, including $100 million annually from the Department solely for supporting economically disadvantaged and English language learners. But for those schools with the greatest challenges, this additional State support can jumpstart long overdue change.

“I want to commend the Kaler school community for confronting their challenges head-on and with their sleeves rolled up,” said Commissioner Rier. “The work they’ve committed to doing is rigorous, but it’s the right thing to do to ensure their students get the high-quality education they deserve.”

Much of the funding awarded by the Maine DOE will be used to enhance educator effectiveness at Kaler through increased and specialized support and professional development for teachers.

Under the leadership of a new principal, the school will hire new math and data coaches, as well as four ed techs; add more than two days of structured staff time to review student performance data to inform interventions and instruction; and offer $30,000 annually in stipends for teachers and administrators showing student achievement gains.

The State’s support will also allow Kaler to extend its school day to give students more instructional time; strengthen a partnership with LearningWorks that will provide increased after-school and summer programming; and purchase new technology for teaching and learning.

Ensuring Kaler kids and parents have the non-academic resources they need to be ready to learn is also central to the school’s improvement plan. Grant money will be used to contract with Spurwink, Opportunity Alliance and the United Way of Greater Portland to support parents and connect them with community resources and to provide needed behavioral and mental health counseling to students.

“We are excited to be recipients this grant and believe the resources included over the next three years will help the Kaler School Community increase student achievement,” said South Portland School Department Superintendent Suzanne Godin. “While the Kaler principal and staff have been working hard to support students and increase parent and community engagement, the coaching positions and increased student learning time are strategies we haven’t been able to provide in our local budget. We look forward to the work ahead.”

For more information about the School Improvement Grant program or Maine DOE’s school improvement efforts, visit


One thought on “State awards South Portland’s Kaler Elementary $1.6 million for school improvement

  1. When Mr. Lepage states “I congratulate them for putting their students first and giving the classroom teachers the resources they need to raise aspirations and achievement.” Does he really know what went on behind the scenes?

    To obtain these funds the school had four options. The option the South Portland School Department Superintendent Suzanne Godin decided was to remove the current principle. On the surface this management decision seems to make sense. As it most likely was the least disruptive to students and staff. But with that said a few things do not seem to add up. The current Kaler principle Diane Lang was removed from her position. But she was not fired, she was given another leadership position as the principle of Small Elementary School in South Portland. So while Diane Lang was used as the scape goat to obtain the funds she was rewarded with the same job at a different school. After speaking to Superintendent Suzanne Godin last week I must say she did not seem to have any issues with her management decision and does not seem to see it as a conflict of interest at best or fraud at worst. Is this really what the federal government had in mind when laying out the options to obtain grants for failing schools?

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